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System for taking and organising reading notes

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Posted by Dr Andus
Apr 16, 2013 at 10:42 PM


I’ve trialled a new system and workflow for taking reading notes today. Props: 1) arm chair + foot rest, 2) a board to be used as a make-shift desk surface to sit on my lap, 3) book stand, 4) 2x extra-large foldback binder clips to secure two sides of open book to book stand, 5) pencil for underlining, 6) iPad with iThoughtsHD and Dragon Dictation apps.

iThoughtsHD (a mind map) is the key player here. It allows me to organise my reading notes into a mind map (i.e. hierarchical outline) while I’m reading, which I can then sync via Dropbox with my PC, where I can open the .mm file directly in Freeplane.

Dragon Dictation is there only for the occasional longer quote, which I can paste in as a note to a node. The pencil is there mostly to underline passages that I want to type up in iThoughts (so my eyes can follow the text - but also useful for future reference).

Previously I took notes with pen and paper in a notebook and underlined quotes in the book, and then I used Dragon on the PC to dictate them, and pasted the text into ConnectedText. Only at the end did I organise the text into a hierarchy by adding headings in CT. Then I might select quotes I want to use and put them into separate CT topics.

This new process reverses the place of hierarchical organisation in the workflow. I find that it works better, as it’s easier to discern a logic in the text while I’m reading it. Also, typing on the iPad seems to go faster than writing with pencil and paper (and there are just fewer objects to manage on my “desk” - they used to keep falling off).

My dilemma is how to get the iThoughts data into CT. It is possible to import the mind maps into CT as OPML, .mm or even HTML, either as outlines or as CT topics. The problem is that CT’s topic can only render 5 levels of a hierarchy, while the outliner can’t import notes attached to nodes.

I may just keep my reading notes hierarchy in Freeplane for now and link to it from CT. Additionally I could paste in any longer quotes into CT from iThought’s .docx export and then link the Freeplane nodes to the respective CT topics. I still need to figure this bit out. Perhaps the Freeplane map can be the first stage of filtering out important material (mainly quotes) that need to go into CT.

But I like taking reading notes in mind map form upfront. It seems to help my comprehension. Effectively I’m creating an annotated reverse outline of the book. iThoughtsHD is just excellent for this.


Posted by Dr Andus
Apr 16, 2013 at 11:35 PM


I’m wondering how I could use the upfront mind map reading notes process while reading digital documents.

1) I could have PDF journal article displayed on PC screen, while taking notes in iThoughtsHD on iPad. But retyping text, especially long quotes feels like unnecessary duplication.

2) I could copy and paste notes and quotes straight to a Freeplane mind map.

The problem with both is that I’d need to sit at the desk, which is not comfortable when reading an involved scientific article all day long.

3) I could continue with my current process (reading and annotating PDFs in GoodReader on iPad in armchair). But instead of pasting the annotations and quotes straight into ConnectedText from GoodReader’s email export, I could use Docear (which is built on Freeplane) to extract PDF notes and highlights and organise them into a mindmap ASAP, before I forget the hierarchical and logical relationships. Then I can link things to and from CT and add selected quotes. Need to test this.


Posted by Dr Andus
Jun 27, 2013 at 09:22 AM


Just came across Dragon Notes by Nuance for instant transcription of audio notes, which seems to have been specifically designed for Win8 tablets but also works on Win7 PCs. I already have Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium, so this appears to be redundant.


The underlying concept seems interesting but it doesn’t sound like they’ve thought through what happens once you’ve got masses of notes (according to the review below). For me, speech recognition still hasn’t arrived to supplant the keyboard when it comes to quick note-taking (although I do use Dragon NS12 for dictating longer texts or recording reading notes).



Posted by Dr Andus
Sep 9, 2013 at 11:10 AM


TextGrabber on iOS seems to take us a step closer to taking reading notes with a camera:



Posted by MadaboutDana
Sep 9, 2013 at 01:45 PM


Looks interesting (grrrr - no, not a CRIMPer moment, please, really can’t afford any more!). I use Snap2PDF for OCRing photos of docs, which also works pretty well.


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